After 61 days of travel, Duncan and I are once again on our own, goodbye Stray Asia. While the tour had pros and cons, overall we are both very happy we booked it. Not only did it calm my slightly panicked mind before we left, it helped us meet some fantastic people. Our trip around Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam wouldn’t have been the same!
After Phong Nha, we went to another small place called Nimh Binh. Despite the beauty of Phong Nha that night our tour guide had accidentally got caught in a fight (trying to protect another man) and had been punched around the face! Needless to say we were glad to be moving on…
On our way to Nimh Binh we stopped in a small non-touristy town, it was amazing to see just how shocked the local children were to see westerners. We had many children point and scream towards us, while a bit strange it was pretty cute at the same time.
Nimh Binh was a beautiful town full of mountains and rice paddies. Therefore, Duncan and I decided to once again hire some bikes and cycle around the city.
We cycled to a nearby mountain and climbed (very slowly) to the top. The 460 steps were almost knee high and in the sun this was a gruelling task. When we eventually reached the top the view was well worth the hike. Alongside this – it just shows how good my breathing is coming along with all these activities. Unfortunately, when at the top we saw one of the worst things we have seen around here. A few american children ran to the top screaming ‘proud to be an American’ and then tore up Vietnamese money to throw over the side. Duncan and I had no idea how to react and it was shocking seeing their parents just sit back and watch.
When back in the town, Duncan decided to get his haircut in a little local hairdressers (aka. someone’s living room). The lady did a fantastic job – even better than some in London.
Our last and final stop in Vietnam was Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Hanoi is a calmer version of Ho Chi Minh City. However due to the amount of people we have met doing a similar trip we often found ourselves bumping into people on the street – that was a strange experience.
As we had a limited amount of time left in Vietnam, our visa was almost up, we completed a walking tour of the city to fit in as many sites as possible. The man was extreamly knowledgeable and cleared up a number of questions Duncan and I had, for example;
Why do the Vietnamese often sit on the street?
After the war families had to squeeze under one roof, due to over crowding the streets became a little bit like a living room and this has progressed through generations.
Why are the seats so small?
The Vietnamese regularly use small boats for fishing, transporting etc… they are use to being low to the ground.
Why are their two flags – red and yellow and multicoloured?
The traditional red flag with a yellow star
– the red and yellow is because the Vietnamese people are ‘yellow skinned with red blood’ and the star represents the five main classes in Vietnamese society—intellectuals, farmers, workers, businessmen and military personnel.
The multicoloured flag
– green flag for the element wood and direction east,
– red flag for the element fire and direction south,
– white flag for the element metal and direction west,
– black flag for the element water and direction north, and
– yellow flag for the element earth and direction center.
The tour took us to around the Old Quarter, to the One-Pillar Pagoda, Temple of Literature, Presidential Palace, and a Christian Church. Hanoi has a number of free walking tours and I highly recommend signing up when you’re around.
On our own, we visited Hỏa Lò Prison, or nicknamed ‘Hanoi Hilton Hotel’. After reading the reviews on TripAdvisor I was expecting to read about the history of policing throughout Vietnam, unfortunately the prison was heavily focused on only the French rule and the Vietnamese/American war. While interesting Duncan and I found the content a little one-sided and left after an hour.
Over the past few months I have found that some of the simplest things Duncan and I have done on the trip have been my favourite and by far the reason I have come out here. One of our last few evenings in Vietnam, Duncan, Honor, Kat and I decided to join the locals at a place called ‘Bia Hoi‘ – a street corner in Vietnam that the locals sit outside and eat. The food was gorgeous and around £1 for a huge plate, but the best part was the local experience and being able to sit back and people watch in such a fascinating area.
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay was of course a must do. We had heard a number of people saying ‘you get for what you pay’ when it comes to booking the cruise so we did a lot of research. We had been recommended ‘Imperial Cruises‘ and therefore signed up. They did not let us down! We even met some wonderful new people who have given us tips for our future travels or we hope to have a drink with when we get back to London.
Our first day was spent travelling to Ha Long and then cruising towards the bay, we were given lunch and dinner it large quantities and spent the day Kayaking and the night relaxing with a drink in our hand. This is the life.
The second day (we opted to stay on the boat for two nights) was spent on a slightly smaller boat once more cruising around the absolutely stunning Ha Long Bay. We kayaked once again, swam in the sea, sunbathed on top deck and visited both the oyster farm and Ti Top Island to gain a unique view of the bay.
Our final day was met with a trip to Surprise Cave (unfortunately too touristy compared to the beauty of Paradise, Phong Nha) and a Vietnamese cooking class on the boat before sailing back to the mainland. Ha Long didn’t let us down and we recommend to everyone to do the second night on the boat for extra cruising time!
Click here for a video of us sailing along Ha Long Bay
For those of you who might be wondering why I have a Nemo balloon; a drunken decision so he came along. However, he did come in useful and the staff found him hilarious (shouting FISH FISH every time I walked past).
On our way to Ha Long we stopped off at a local shop, unfortunately so did a number of other buses. Duncan and I were not sure which was ours, but luckily Nemo was still on the bus, we looked through all the windows ‘Finding Nemo’.
Overall Vietnam has been a lot of fun, and each place has given us a completely new experience. We can see why everyone raves about it. Our only criticism would be the visa restrictions, not only did we have to buy two because the first one would have expired too quickly (it’s hard to preplan that far in advance) – the second one still restricted us being only a month long. Our advice would be to do Vietnam first with a 3 month visa, or wait until you are about to enter Vietnam to buy the visa – its actually a lot easier than we thought.
We are now in the south island of Thailand however due to the death of the King we are still up in the air a bit with our plans. However, at this time we send our love to the Thai people.